Yingluck Shinawatra

Thailand's Yingluck calls for snap elections, but protesters vow 'judgment day'

The move fails to appease defiant protesters, who call for the prime minister to step down

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 11:57am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 December, 2013, 9:06am

Desperate to defuse Thailand's deepening political crisis, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said she was dissolving the lower house of parliament and called for early elections. But the moves did nothing to stem a growing tide of more than 150,000 protesters vowing to overthrow her.

Analysts said the steps came too late and were unlikely to satisfy opponents who want to rid Thailand of her powerful family's influence. The protesters are pushing for a non-elected "people's council" to replace her democratically elected government.

After listening to opinions, I [will] request a decree to dissolve parliament

Thailand has been plagued by major bouts of upheaval since Yingluck's brother Thaksin was toppled in a 2006 army coup that laid bare a deeper conflict between the elite and the educated middle-class and Thaksin's power base in the countryside, which benefited from populist policies designed to win over the rural poor.

An attempt by Yingluck's party last month to pass a bill through parliament that would have granted amnesty to Thaksin and others triggered the latest round of unrest.

"After listening to opinions from all sides, I have decided to request a royal decree to dissolve parliament," said Yingluck, her voice shaking as she spoke in a nationally televised address yesterday that broke into regular programming. "There will be new elections according to the democratic system."

Yingluck's ruling party won the last vote two years ago in a landslide and is likely to come out victorious in any new ballot.

Watch: Watch: Thai PM calls elections as 140,000 join protest

Government spokesman Teerat Ratanasevi said the cabinet had proposed a new vote be held on February 2. The date must be approved by the Election Commission and electoral officials will meet with the government in the next few days to discuss it, said Jinthong Intarasri, a spokeswoman for the commission.

Yingluck said she would remain in a caretaker capacity until such time as a new premier is named.

As Yingluck spoke, long columns of marching protesters paralysed traffic on major Bangkok boulevards, filling four-lane roads as they converged from nine locations on Yingluck's office at Government House.

In Hong Kong about 30 Thais staged a protest at the Thai consulate-general in Admiralty calling for Yingluck to "return power to its people". Their petition was received by Consul Khanthong Nuanual.

In Bangkok, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban had yet to announce his reaction to Yingluck's moves. He has repeatedly said, however, that calling fresh elections and even Yingluck's resignation would not be enough to end the conflict.

Protesters agreed. "We will keep on protesting because we want her family to leave this country," said Boonlue Mansiri, one of tens of thousands who joined a 20-kilometre march to Yingluck's office.

Suthep's supporters yesterday appeared to abandon the two places they had occupied for more than a week - the Finance Ministry and part of a vast government complex.

The country's political standoff deepened on Sunday after the main opposition party resigned from the legislature en masse to join the anti-government demonstrations. The Democrats held 153 of the 500 seats in the legislative body, according to the latest figures on their website.

The minority Democrats - who are closely allied with the protesters - have not won an election since 1992, and some of their leaders appear to have given up on electoral politics as a result.

At least five people have been killed and 289 injured in the latest unrest. Violence ended suddenly last week as both sides celebrated the birthday of the king, who turned 86 on Thursday.

Additional reporting by Tanna Chong